Monday, August 29, 2011

people are going to listen

J. stayed with me this weekend. We lived in the same co-op in college but hadn't seen each other in the intervening decade+. We got in touch somewhat randomly, I had a place to stay, he needed a place, and lo - there was his luggage open beside the extra bed. The night he got in, we shared beers and conversation that opened with the question: "What have you been doing in the last eleven years?"

Yesterday we met up with other friends from the co-op. H., a woman I remember to be a beatnik stoner with impossibly long hair, and J.M., whom I saw last in 2002 when we hopped a fence in Bayview and rambled around what turned out to be the police impound lot, taking photos of crushed cars. And M., whom I've seen more recently, who was a punk with a double mohawk and a multitool belted to his Carhartts when I met him and now is a resident in surgery at a prestigious San Francisco hospital.

I recognized H.'s mellow affect. And there was J.M.'s frantic, ex-raver energy as she led a woman in a lindy hop, when 1920s jazz came on the juke box last night. M. and I talk in the same way we did when we were in college - like men, looking away from each other, at something a distance away, addressing not the thing itself but rather the events and imaginations we observe in the moment. Sometimes talking about the superhero power you'd most like to have is a way of getting to the things that are harder to say.

This weekend wasn't the first time in recent memory that I've felt delighted to reconnect with someone once meaningful to me but with whom I've lost touch. There was also C., whom I saw randomly on the corner of 18th and Dolores on the Sunday morning of Pride, when I was walking back to my apartment wearing last night's clothes. C. and I were in a poetry class in 2000. Her writing affected me so much that it came to represent entire concepts, new terms, in my head. I wrote this about C. in a courtship email to another person a few years ago:
A college friend of mine, after reading Elizabeth Bishop's "Sestina," wrote something she called "Sweetness Sestina." I don't remember the poem but I liked the sibilance of its titular phrase so much I have whispered it to myself for seven years whenever something makes my heart want to explode with happiness. It is most often invoked by that combination of threat and intimacy we refer to shorthand as romance.
I've been thinking lots about longevity, continuity, the lifecycles of friendships, creating communities (and then staying, to strengthen those communities), giving and receiving mentorship, and the choices you make in life that ten years later you realize were important junctures but at the time just make you feel out of focus. For example, I just bought a home. It seems like the right thing to do but I'm not sure. I don't know if I can be sure. But a few months ago I started to imagine my toes turning into roots and plunging into the earthquake liquefaction zone that is San Francisco topsoil - a weird feeling, a physiological tingle, a foreign body sensation for somebody who has switched homes once a year for the last thirteen (!) years. I have no books left! I give them all away when I move. I want a room of my own to fill with books. But is it going to bankrupt me? Or tie me to an income I don't want to sustain? Will I be robbed? What happened to the dream of collective living that I nursed for so long? Or biking to work in Beijing? It's next to the PG&E substation, and electromagnetic fields have been linked to childhood leukemia, so will I have a partner, and will she move in, and will we have a child, and will that child be more susceptible to childhood leukemia, and how can I afford the health care???

My brain sure likes to ride that crazy train. God only knows what the next station will bring. So it's really pleasing to hear the older community members I work with say things like, "Oh, I've known C. since she was a baby dyke. We started a queer Asian women's group in New York in the late 1980s," or "We worked on affirmative action together before we worked on queer issues."  And to have recently made some younger friends about whom I intend to say the same sort of thing, in the late 2020s. And have J. summarize the last eleven years by saying, "All of the good things in my life are the results of risky decisions I've made with imperfect information." And to remember that so much can happen in a decade but at the end of it we are still who we are, like C. now queer and shorthaired but still making magic with her words, or H. now with a Stanford M.D. but still sending out the same space cadet beatitude while wheeling a crooked bicycle down Lapidge Street.

And me, wrinklier, slacker, but still the same mix of anxiety, optimism, and premature sentimentality. Apologies for the last six months' mood, readers.

I'll leave you with one concrete outcome of this mood. A recent email exchange with someone I really wanted to mentor/adopt me when I was younger and unaware of how much fog was in my head:

From me to N.:

You may have no recollection of me. I met you when I was 23. It was a while ago. I had just started a Vaid fellowship at the Task Force.

We only worked together about two weeks before you left, but you said something to me that I haven't forgotten. We went to Nowhere Bar to get a drink. You were talking about the morning you turned 30. You said that as you lay in bed that morning, you realized that being thirty meant people had to take you seriously. That your opinion mattered.

I'm nearly 31 now. I've repeated your wisdom to hundreds of people. I started saying I was thirty more than two years before my 30th birthday because I was so eager to get to the state you described.

Anyway, I found myself saying that to a friend this morning, and I decided to look you up and let you know that even though we only knew each other for a brief moment in 2004, it was meaningful to me. I remember you very fondly. I hope you're doing well, wherever you're at in life!

From N. to me:
Hey [Bananarchist] –

Of course I remember. This is a very kind email and I thank you for it. I believe what I said was that I thought: I’m thirty now, I’m going to say what I want to say and people are going to listen. As for other people taking me or my opinion seriously – that’s another matter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

my book about me

I'm on OkCupid. Again. Sort of.

Sort of because I don't use it for dating. I use it to exchange stupid messages with friends whose profiles I come across. For example, with B..:

(Also please to send the Social Security number)
 And with J.S.:  

(I flagged a magenta hanky during Pride but nobody approached me! Sad face!)
Very few people contact me and I almost never respond. Responding feels unnecessary. I meet plenty of nice people in the flesh. And more importantly the thought of getting strangers' hopes up about my emotional availability - the things we'll say, the faces we'll show each other, the friendships we'll foul, the FEMA tents that will replace our hearts in two months time - and the reputation that will follow me - makes me want to run away screaming. The last incarnation of my OkCupid profile had not one but THREE warning labels to this effect:
  • "Quick to love, but not looking for it at the moment."
  • "Open to other suggestions, but not looking for romance."
  • "I make an excellent wingman."
(Caveat emptor, ladies!)

So why bother, if I don't actually want to meet anybody?

First, I like thinking about and honing my social media writing style. In the last year, I've micromanaged at least five friends' OkCupid profiles. I have strong opinions about how to not come across like a fool in Internet writing. So many things can doom a profile, including but not limited to 1) saying too little (reads as lurker), 2) saying too much (one should not have to hit Page Down more than twice), 3) misspelling words, 4) claiming middlebrow tastes, 5) claiming elite tastes, 6) identifying interests as if they're friends, like "Ani and Adrienne," 7) using the username "ilikeboobies" (a bona fide profile), 8) photos taken from a consistent angle, 9) excessive use of "Wheeeeeee!!! xoxox !!! :) <3 >.< "-like statements, and 10) being too literal in self-summary (e.g., "I was born in San Jose. Then I moved to Milpitas. Now I'm a dogcatcher. My favorite food is Greek yogurt."). So much to beware. But worst of all are those handwringers who backspace even as they type by saying "I never know what to say in these things!"

Profiles that work are those that embrace the genre and spell out the prospective's opinions clearly and unapologetically. On Friday night, I'm in the northeast corner of Washington Square Park, killing a game of Scrabble. The Ghost Writer blew. Fun Home wets my whistle.

If you would like me to improve the writing on your profile, I charge lawyer's rates - but your reward is life partnership so . . . you choose.

Second, I'm a little obsessed with the self-definitional aspect of it.

I like OkCupid for the same reason I like the Myers-Briggs types and love languages and astrology and other personality taxonomies. It gives me the opportunity and vocabulary to understand and describe people, and by people I mean myself.

(OkCupid reads my palm.)
Like the other social networking websites, OkCupid asks you to create a persona through words and photos. Your choice of words projects a certain image. You have to think about who you are and what part of that you want to let the world see. Except a dating profile probes a little deeper than Facebook. Your photo of you doublefisting Coronas works differently from one of you digging postholes for an environmental restoration project. How do I self-summarize? What six things can't I do without?

One day in May 2010, I blew off work for an afternoon and fell into an OkCupid wormhole. I browsed through all 56 pages of profiles on OkCupid meeting these parameters: gay women, 28-33, with 25 miles of Brooklyn. Then I had a mild panic about not being able to answer the OkCupid profile questions, and what that meant about my self-awareness:
Yesterday I was trolling for profiles of people I knew. I found the online dating profiles of A., B., C., D., and E. I was expecting more to turn up, but those that did were treasures. I read and reread and looked at pictures. I was most interested in A.'s. I was cruising along on her profile thinking, Yes, I have everything that she wants, strong shoulders, goofball tomboy personality, baseball glove, tree differentiating skills, "dizzying linguistic capabilities" - I mean, I wasn't lifted because I was flattering myself about my own attractiveness, or that I was hopeful that I could be with A. again, but because I felt like I had found a clear description of what I too valued - but then - wait. She also wants her dreambutch to have "self-knowledge and humility."
I stopped there. Is that what was wrong with me? That I didn't have either? And all that compatibility, all my androgyne to her androgyne-seeking, meant nothing because I didn't know what I wanted, or I was scared of what I wanted, or I couldn't express it, and I was a coward?

I take breaks every few years. I take long, lonely trips, dislocate myself, make myself confront new things. This, I say, is in the service of making myself a better, more self-reflective person. But I must have had the wrong idea. I think I should stay put. I think I need to sit down where I am and pay attention to what makes me happy and what makes me unhappy. I should be able to fill out questions about the movies that matter most to me without referring to my NetFlix history; because the movies don't matter when you don't remember them, and it's a lie to say that they do.
I was probably right to panic, because at that point I had wandered somewhat far away from the interests, activities, habits, and communities that I feel are part of my identity.

I was also interested in the metaphysics of self-description, i.e., how do we know we are describing ourselves accurately? How to not be three blind men describing an elephant?
I remember how dishonest the act of self-summary seemed from last year's online dating adventures, how your profile is a mixture of who you are and who you aspire to be, and how confusing it gets to differentiate the two. Yesterday, O. showed me the "Leadership Compass," a concept she picked up at a workshop at Creating Change. It's a personality chart with different characteristics on two perpendicular axes. North and south are relationship- versus goal-oriented. East and west are prudent sloth versus reckless speed, as working styles, or so I gathered, because I didn't find anything describe the axes in any coherent way. I glanced over O.'s chart and decided that I was all of the characteristics of all of the quadrants. It was baffling. On the underground walk between the Q and the 6 trains at Union Square, I told the back of S.'s head (she was tugging in front of me) that personality tests should really be filled out by the people who know you or work with you, because you can't be trusted to represent yourself honestly. Somebody has to tell me what my leadership style is, because I can't seem to perceive my inability to perceive myself as a personality dominated by indecisiveness.

On these websites you see dozens of people who appear to be within a standard deviation of yourself and your desires, with similar modestly pleasurable and unwasteful tastes, life goals, and interests, but the sell seems so different from the reality. When you meet face-to-face, why can't you two banter like your profiles do? Why are you so old and misshapen when you're not a 121k jpeg? And how much of this careful differentiation matters anyway? I found it so easy to judge a person's coarse tastes in art, poor grammar, seeming immodesty, embarrassing proclamations. But seen from outer space, how much difference is there really between somebody who likes Arrested Development versus somebody who likes Freaks and Geeks? Somebody who makes $185,000 as a corporate lawyer and somebody who makes $29,000 as a freelance radio producer/non-profit admin? In the end, we all turn bland-colored and die.
Note how my emotional defense mechanisms steered thoughts about romance toward death.

(The first thing people notice about me: halting motions, rotting flesh, blood on mouth, cute haircut!)
As I've written before, the last few months I've been busy hunting for identity in a period I'm calling a spastic second adolescence. Somebody following my profile in the last few months would have witnessed the schizophrenic evolution of my self-awareness. When I first reposted my profile, this was my self-summary:

A man set sail on a stormy sea. The boat that bore him yawed. Fleas set upon his collar. The air was salt; the food was salt; the medium was salt. He played the tin whistle and never slept. In his low voice, he said, to nobody in particular, "This is neither allegory nor reality, this is just something somebody wrote to meet the minimum word count demanded by an online dating service."
A good Samaritan sent me this helpful tip:

I left that profile up for about three months. Then I changed it to this:

Things I like: nattering on with someone awesome, learning new things, viola jokes, feeling dislocated in a foreign setting (this includes international travel as well as Billy Graham revivals in the Superdome), stringed instruments, an efficient sentence, a well-considered opinion, feats of strength, playing catch, giving gifts, walking out of a museum with the memory of just one piece of art.

I spent college in a hippie vegetarian co-op, baking bread, nerding out on art and politics. That's still my ideal household and community - warm, open, caregiving, nontraditional. I'm trying to figure out how best to live this ideal.
But this felt like too much, too humorless, too open to ridicule. Embarrassingly direct is not my style, colonoscopy cam though my blog might be. And guardedness is as much a part of my personality as the things I value. So I wanted a self-summary that would be honest and sincere but also creeping toward void for vagueness.

Which brings us to the present:
Warm, sloppy, enthusiastic, verbal, bicultural, non-judgmental, curious, searching. Sometimes uncertain, sometimes destructive, always attentive. Obscene in thoughts but traditional in unexpected ways. Values education, distrusts power. Cocky yet fearful. Too old to suffer fools. Very interested in limits. Quick to love, but not looking too hard for it at the moment.
With each revision, I feel like it's getting closer to the truth. It's a funny way to go about pinning down my identity, questions on a dating profile, but I suppose it's no less funny than the personality inventory tests that my high school sociology teacher made me take to identify my future profession. And before that, at age 5, circling professions that looked interesting to me in "My Book About Me."

In this book, I circled "Rabbi." Why? I misread the text. My life aspiration at age 5 was to be a rabbit.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

i miss these kinds of conversations

December 23, 2009:
X: what are you wearing?

B: exactly the same outfit as yesterday with the exception of brown underwear with pink piping instead of blue underwear with green piping. sweater with holes on the sleeves, t-shirt, pinstripe black pants, ski socks, canoe shoes, bad posture, mullet. oh la la. you?

X: what color sweater? holes on both sleeves? did you get new canoe shoes that don’t squeak? i can’t believe you never told me! me: grey cardigan with pin (wood, floral, round), red button-up shirt with silver threads and “peter pan” collar, high waisted thick wool skirt, mud colored, white sweater tights, round brown shoes. hair pinned up. bags under eyes. i look like a substitute teacher/crazy person.

B: sweater: black, wool, banana republic via goodwill. hole (patched) on left elbow where boo’s declaw caught once, another hole on left wrist, still unpatched. same canoe shoes, same squeak, don’t care anymore. your description of your outfit made me think thoughts of you inappropriate for the workplace.

X: this is fun. what have you eaten today? please list. let’s see if your fruit/vegetable intake is greater than the number of woolly clothing items i am wearing.

B: blueberry yogurt cup, oatmeal (almonds, pecans, apricots, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut), coffee. oatmeal raisin clif bar. sliver of fudge. potatoes au gratin (not sure what that means but includes grease and salt) and spinach heap with blueberries and walnuts and thumb of smegma. feel very unhealthy eagerly awaiting 2:30 p.m. free lunch time for chinese food leftovers. you?

X: coffee, emergen-c, toasted cinnamon raisin bread spread with smooth peanut butter, bowl plain yogurt with fresh fruit (orange, canteloupe, honey dew, pineapple, blueberries), small plain bagel with veggie cream cheese, two ginger cookies and an italian butter cookie stick, leftover stir-fried beef sichuan style with celery and carrots, jonas gold apple, bag of ritz bits cheese sandwiches, earl gray tea. gonna make myself some swiss miss soon and graze for more snacks.

B: num! eat more. what’s on your plate tonight? also you know what’s totally liberating? writing short imperative sentences, e.g. “send me the sentence when you’re done.” i prefer this to indirect feminine questioning, e.g. “um could you send me the sentence please?” what are you drinking tonight? killian’s red [emphatic hoof stamp].

X: oh yes, i’ve been transitioning to the command versus the fake-ask as well. it’s awesome.

B: sit on my face.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Tonight I recorded a cover of a song called 明天我要嫁给你 (Ming Tian Wo Yao Jia Gei Ni) by 周华健 (Emil Chau). 

miao zhong fen zhen di da di da zai xin zhong
wo de yan guang shan shuo shan shuo hao kong dong
wo de xin tiao pu tong putong de zhen zhen ji dong
wo wen zi ji yao ni ai ni you duo nong
Wo yao he ni shuang shu shuang fei duo chong dong
wo de nei xin hu shang hu xia de zhen zhen ji dong
ming tian wo yao jia gei ni la
ming tian wo yao jia gei ni la
yao bu shi mei tian de jiao tong fan rao zhe wo shuo you de meng
(yao bu shi ting dian na yi ye cai fa xian wo ji mo kong dong)
ming tian wo yao jia gei ni la
ming tian wo yao (zhong yu) jia gei ni la
yao bu shi ni wen wo
yao bu shi ni quan wo
yao bu shi shi dang de shi hou ni rang wo xin dong
(ke shi wo jiu zai zhe shi hou hai pa huang kong)
Here's somebody's somewhat clumsy translation, a shame because the words are actually kind of pretty:
Second hand minute hand 'didadida' in heart
My eyes gleam blinking so emptily
My heartbeat 'putongputong' rhythmically beat
I ask myself want you love you how deeply
I want to live and endeavour with you how recklessly fast
My heart goes up and down rhythmically pulsing

Tomorrow I'm marrying you
Tomorrow I'm marrying you
If it isn't everyday traffic bothers all of my dreams
(If it isn't the night that blackout only discover my empty loneliness)
Tomorrow I'm marrying you
Tomorrow I'm (finally) marrying you
If it's not you propose to me
If it's not you advise me
If it's not the suitable time you moved my heart
(But I'm just at this moment terrified)
But can you blame the translator for not capturing it? The languages are so different. The translator renders the title phrase "明天我要嫁给你啦" as "Tomorrow I'm marrying you." In English it is eight syllables as it is in Chinese. But there is no poetry in the English sounds - you get the unattractive rhotic right away in the second syllable and again in the fifth, and "I'm" vivisects the rhythm of the phrase.  In Chinese, you get three pleasing trochees and an iamb, which track the simple 4/4 time signature of the music behind the words. Listen to that triphthong on the upbeat: woh-ya-oo. Feel the way the phrase moves from sounds at the front of your mouth to your throat to your teeth to throat to teeth to tongue.

There's no poetry in the English words, either. "Tomorrow I'm marrying you" is a literal translation of what the singer is saying, but it sounds embarrassingly direct compared to the original, like the one-year-later sequel to the future tense verb conjugation lesson that is Enrique Iglesias's obscene little hit "Tonight I'm Fucking You" (or the radio-friendly "Tonight I'm Luvving You"), the others in the series being "Yesterday I Got You Pregnant" and "Next Year I Will Have Divorced You" and "Forever I Will Be Having Deep Regrets."

Here's my translation:
You meet a small, cute, mean, brilliant, sexy, psychotic Chinese-American gal who writes like a champion, reads for pleasure, and makes quiet, precise observations about the world through her corrective lenses. What do you do? 
I posted to YouTube since I don't have audio hosting. The image in the background is Ivan Aivazovsky's "The Ninth Wave." It came through the Guggenheim in late 2005, just as I was meeting the first of it turns out several small cute mean brilliant sexy psychotic Chinese-American etceteras I'd get to know. Another sexy etcetera introduced me to this song in 2009.

Monday, August 15, 2011

N. and Z.

I'm standing on my desk chair trying to drill pilot holes into my window frame for a curtain rod, trying not to fly backward off the swivel chair and out the window. N. and Z. dart into the room with bright yellow t-shirts wrapped around their heads. They duck behind my bed. They crouch behind my desk. "What the fuck are you doing?" I say. "We're ninjas!" they say. "You're wearing bright yellow t-shirts," I say. "What kind of camouflage is that?" "We're ninjas!" they repeat.

(This isn't the ninja look. This is Z. trying to make N.'s hypercolor shirts turn colors.)
We have a conflict with the sublessor about pets in the household. N. keeps saying, "We want to make room in the household for both our human animal friends and non-human animal friends." He will not refer to dogs as dogs. I think he does this in part because he knows it is ridiculous, in part because he is a bona fide hippie.

Z. comes into my bed when I and other person are undressed in it. "Can I lay down thanks!" she says. It's not a question, but a statement, and before it is completely out of her mouth she is lying between the two of us. "We're going to the Pork Store," she says. "Wanna come?" She recalls how recent dance rehearsals have been. Her friend, a Filipino boy with hair down to his waist, hangs from my pull-up bar and explains how another hair-collecting charity is better than Locks of Love. Then they leave for brunch.

Sometimes when Z. and I hang out in the kitchen, she plays music from her laptop right toward our faces, and it is so loud that we have to shout at each other to be heard.

N. pulls out the measuring tape fifteen feet and lines it along the wall. He shows me the technique for a gap jump from standing - where to throw my weight, where to place my hands, how to land. We take turns leaping for distance in the hallway. I can't get past seven feet. N. launches like a spring and lands like a cat.

Sometimes Z. comes into my room crying, and then we lay down in my bed and I put my arm around her and give her a hanky to blow snot into, and then we talk for a little while and sometimes I will command her to stop crying. Sometimes this works, and she'll smile. Sometimes I'll get choked with fear and doubt thinking about an ex-lover/doctor's mental health diagnosis, and Z. asks questions that only convey curiosity, no judgment, until I am calm and capable again.

N. and Z. shout down the hall, "Want some FRIES??" so I join them in the kitchen. They're eating enormous burgers, even though N. hardly ever eats meat and Z. is 4'10" and hardly needs food to remain alive. I clean their plates of curly fries and normal fries, then apologize for eating everything. "There's Chinese food in the fridge too," they say. We talk about Z.'s apprenticeship with a healer and her own approach to energy work. N. is quiet, because there is something else on his mind.

Z.'s parents stay for three weeks in July. They cook Ecuadorean chicken dishes and serve me a unique pineapple-oatmeal beverage. Q. pronounces it Cuaker. He says, "That is how they say Quaker Oats in Ecuador." They leave behind gifts: for Z., a matching pajama set in lime green, with the words "I <3 Me" printed all over; for me, a giraffe's head on a cork; for the apartment, an old black and white image of Z.'s mom, a beauty in her youth, which we put on an end table next to a wood cut-out in the shape of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

I come across N. and Q. stoned in the living room. "What are you doing?" I say. "Watching trailers," they say. We don't pay for cable. All we seem to get on the television is video on demand trailers. They have passed hours watching trailers. "It's better than movies," they say.

We're all leaving the apartment at the end of the month. Moments like these only happen between people who see each other all the time, in unstructured ways, in shared spaces. I'm going to miss these fools.

Friday, August 12, 2011

philip levine

Philip Levine is the new poet laureate. These things don't usually find me but I heard an interview with him on the drive to work yesterday. His biography is a little unusual: working class, Detroit, teaches at Fresno State.

Fresno State! How many poets of poet laureate stripes choose life in the dry, dull, middle-of-nowhere inferno that is Fresno? It says a lot about his values. Color me impressed.

Here's a poem worth reading:
The Simple Truth

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat" she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."
Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.
You can hear him reading it in the interview, starting at 9:40. He is old, and his voice sounds spittle-rich.

Monday, August 08, 2011

engine gunk!

If you pump gas at the Shell Station on El Camino and Oxford Street in Palo Alto, this woman smiles down upon you while you slake your thirsty car:

Things of note:

The ad is cheap. Probably literally cheap to make: a model, her clothes and makeup, a photographer, two engine valves, a copywriter, and a designer. Also, cheap-looking: crappy design (note the bright red arrow pointing to "Engine gunk!", and the excitable "Engine valves after only 5,000 miles!" badly squeezed between the two valves), questionable color palette (pink, red, yellow, light blue, like the baby department of a paint store). And is that New Century Gothic?!

Design principles. Two vertical lines frame the person. Her gaze draws yours toward the valve on the right. So does the color and light balance. Left is sinister, right is right. Left to right motion is progress, so valve on the right is evolutionary improvement of valve on the left. Little Shell logo on the coat tells you which is the Shell valve.

They think I'm simple. A helix of blue beads juxtaposed with a greasy valve is supposed to convince me to patronize Shell.

The image that is supposed to convince me is that of a scientist. Somebody in a white lab coat. That person is a woman.  Woman is older. She is Caucasian. They could have Photoshopped the lines in her neck out, but chose not to. She does not wear a wedding band or engagement ring, which is probably true to life given the partnership and family prospects of women who pursue terminal degrees. She is thin-lipped and shapeless but not entirely without suggestive flavor - her pink shirt opens with a vulvar collar and a light application of makeup says that she has only given up on sex 90-95%.

Why not an older, white, male model? An Asian model? I'm not saying that because I'm concerned about API visibility and empowerment here but because I expect ad writers to cash in on the model minority stereotype. Is the choice of an older white woman supposed to signify Shell's social consciousness - that it is aware of and fighting the bias against women in the sciences? Because the demographic filling up their tanks at Shell gas stations skews toward older white women, who are more likely to trust reflections of their own faces? Because sex and dependability are at odds? I suppose you don't really see nubile young things pitching fire insurance.

Just things to think about in the 90 seconds one patiently endures in order to rejoin the road trip toward environmental destruction, suburban sprawl, unsustainable development, resource dependency, geopolitical gamesmanship, war and death.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

challed prawn agrafee

Here's this horrible thing I did once before I had a slightly firmer grasp on professionalism. (Slightly.) I had a summer job. I thought it would be funny to tease my officemate by sending him an email. The email was very simple. The subject read: giled pinografie. 

Please note that it did not actually read "giled pinografie."  It's just that I refuse to write on my blog what I actually wrote, lest the feds descend upon me. Say it aloud, and the meaning will become clear to you.

Then, in the body of the email, I wrote, "Just kidding!"

Then I hit send.

When my officemate got this email, he put his head on his desk and cried.  The man literally cried.  He said we would both be fired.  Maybe arrested too.

Neither of us were fired or arrested. Happy ending!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

eight of keys

A. saw the future on Monday and told me what was to come. It started with tarot cards on a scrap of fabric she had laid on a sunny patch of grass. Not tarot, but some lefty re-invention of the tarot set, with images of hipsters and single speeds instead of sword mages and skeletons. We were out in Dolores Park. She got a sunburn. I got a vision.

She said, Ask the cards a question. I thought a minute about this.

B. and M. were sitting in the grass next to me, B. lackadaisically eating potato chips, M. doing I'm not sure what. We sat on a slope and looked down toward Dolores Street. I asked B. why so many people were out in the park on a Monday morning. Don't they have work? I said. I guess we didn't either. 

My question was: Will I find the direction I am looking for by the end of the year?

Context for the question. After a blistering, bewildering, exhausting May and June, I spent July doing a monthlong no-fruit diet. A detox plan. Finding my center, spotting the ground. No drinking, or only cosmetic drinking, meaning where you hold a glass as you would a purse, for the colorful visual effect, but you wouldn't drink out of it any more than you would drink out of a purse. Sleeping, reading, writing, and strengthening my back. Therapy. Acupuncture. Spending time with old friends, Mom, Dad, Grandma, and a border collie mutt. Focusing on work and finding a home. And most importantly, no fruit!

(Let me gaze upon your euphemism.)

I finished the detox plan, accomplished a bit of what I wanted to accomplish, and then ended July unexpectedly filled to the brim with love: I spent last weekend at queer Asian summer camp, the NQAPIA Leadership Summit in San Jose.

The recurring theme there was making room for ourselves where there was not room before. Over a hundred activists squeezed into an LGBT community center, sharing skills and stories and an unarticulated feeling that we were working together toward something we all wanted. Someone taped a handwritten sign reading "Gender Neutral Bathroom" over the triangle-skirted Bathroom Woman placard. Five homos sardined in a bed, with a sixth lying like a plank across the top. We hustled tables and chairs to fit everyone at lunch. I tapped undiscovered resources in my heart during a heavy conversation with a beloved old friend. We aspired for more than the .02% of total nonprofit funding we get now.

Making room. Finding a spot in a schedule. Rearranging the furniture. Clearing space for a new demographic: gay, Asian, hot as fuck, ready to fight.


As the weekend wound down, I wanted a hint of what was to come. A. recommended tarot.

The cards I chose were the six of keys, the eight of keys, and the ten of bones. A. read to me from a small black book the explanations for each.  Keys symbolize readiness for forward movement, transitions, opportunities, and next steps. I use my fourteen keys to open doors, start cars, and unlock bikes. Bones are currency are wealth: energy, health, emotional strength, money. Ten bones is the most wealth one can acquire. 
 (In traditional tarot this card is call the Ten of Pentacles. In activist tarot this card is called the Pen of Tentacles.)

I understood these cards to be answering not only the question I posed to them in Dolores Park, but also the questions I'd been mulling over since the start of the conference.

For example, on Saturday morning, E. had screened her trailer for the Asian Pride Project. It was about fifteen minutes of interviews with LGBTQ API folks and their family members, a mix of bright faces acknowledging triumphs and challenges. K. talked with a smile about her Japanese father lauching into a lecture on historical Japanese homosexual practices throughout the millenia when she came out to him; R. said he didn't have the vocabulary in Chinese to describe what he was experiencing to his parents. Many of us watching in the cafeteria of that modest suburban community center suppressed sniffles when E.'s grandmother said E. wouldn't meet her grandmother's expectations of a husband and family, and then burst into loud, relieved laughter when E.'s grandmother said that dating girls was okay as long as they were educated and financially stable. Same status expectations from an Asian granny even for a partner of a different gender!

I looked around the room while the video was screening.  I had closed the blinds so we could see the projector but the brilliant California daytime spilled through and illuminated the room anyway. Solid, tireless B.G. adjusted the PA speakers to minimize feedback. There was an asymmetrical haircut or two that I had grown so fond of in just a short time. An old friend from New York gave a new friend from San Francisco a massage. Half eaten pastries and banh mi scraps lay on paper plates on the tables. In one corner, the stylish young interns from one political advocacy group sat together, a little wide-eyed but eager to learn, roll up sleeves and help. Their teddy bearish boss, who asked such intelligent questions about decisionmaking at our board meeting on Thursday. The silver-haired elder who loved the sound of her own voice, the sharp Chicagoan who reminded us that not all Asian folks had Asian parents, the important community leader who made me feel special when she showed a few minutes of Clintonesque personal interest in me a few years ago, when I was more wide-eyed myself. How I swoon for a bow tie and a checked shirt. What were we doing here? Why did we take off work to crowd into a cafeteria in San Jose? Where did we find the patience for frustrating, unfocused meetings? For the difficult labor of building something from nothing? What wellspring of good feelings made us grin at each other passing in the hallways? How do we bottle that spring for refreshment when the conference becomes a distant summer memory? How did we all know to take off our shoes when we entered each others' hotel rooms?!

These were the kinds of questions I wanted answered.

Monday after the conference, in Dolores Park, A. concluded her description of the ten of bones card by saying: "You will be getting used to the feeling of being full."

Or . . . something like that. I was too preoccupied with the prospects of my good fortune to hear the actual thing said. I loved to think about my metaphysical pockets crowded with keys and coins. Of the image of a hundred people unlocking bikes and riding into the starry night. This we call a movement. I practically applauded when A. finished her reading.

Let me find the takeaways for you:

Now is a good time to be alert and alive. The answer to all of my questions is yes.

(Get in your go-cart and go little sister, get in your go-cart and go
Get in your go-cart and go little sister, get in your go-cart and go
Get in your go-cart and go little sister, get in your go-cart and go
Get in your go-cart and go little sister, get in your go-cart and go)